Zhang attended the Venice International Film Festival in August 2006, where the host Marc Muller named her as the China's Box Office Queen.
TIME also called Zhang as "China's gift to Hollywood", and French magazine Le Point said Zhang is synonymous to China in the Western media; showing Zhang's worldwide influence and recognition.
In preparation for the part, Zhang spent two months living with an actual blind girl.
Zhang is best known for her appearances in Rush Hour 2 (2001), Hero (2002), House of Flying Daggers (2004), 2046 (2004) and The Banquet (2006).Her most critically acclaimed works are Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), which earned her a nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama, the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role; and The Grandmaster (2013), for which she won 12 different Best Actress awards to become the most awarded Chinese actress for a single film.For the role, Zhang was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama, the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role.On 27 June 2005, Zhang accepted an invitation to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), placing her among the ranks of those who are able to vote on the Academy Awards.From 2004 to 2010, Zhang ranked in the Top 5 of Forbes China Celebrity 100 list every year.
In 2008, she was awarded with the "Outstanding Contribution to Chinese Cinema" award at the 11th Shanghai International Film Festival.Controversy arose in Japan and China about having a Chinese woman portray a prominent Japanese geisha.Nonetheless, the film was well received in the West.In 2013, she received the French Cultural Order at the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres Awards.While at this boarding school, she noticed how mean the other girls were to each other while competing for status amongst the teachers.Zhang plays a young Manchu noblewoman who has secretly learned martial arts and runs off to become a wandering swordswoman rather than commit to an arranged marriage, which bagged her Best Supporting Actress awards at the 54th British Academy Film Awards, Independent Spirit Awards, Chicago Film Critics Association Awards and the Toronto Film Critics Association Awards.